Women 'should ask men about pay'

Jo SwinsonWomen should ask male colleagues how much they earn to see if they are receiving equal pay, a Government minister has said.

Jo Swinson said the British reluctance to talk about money "holds women back" and warned the Government could implement legislation requiring large firms to reveal the pay gap between the genders unless voluntary measures are successful.

The Women and Equalities Minister acknowledged that being open about salaries could be uncomfortable but it could also be the "catalyst" for female workers to seek pay rises.

In an interview with Elle magazine, which has launched a campaign on the gender pay gap, Ms Swinson said: " I think sometimes there's something very British in our culture where we don't talk about money, and I think that holds women back.

"If they realised they were earning significantly less than male colleagues at a similar level, that might be the catalyst they need to ask for a pay rise."

She backed the Elle and Feminist Times campaign encouraging women to ask male colleagues about their salaries.

Ms Swinson added: "It's not like everyone's going to be comfortable about that, but trying to create a culture where people are open about these things can only help.

"One of the things that I think is brilliant about the Elle campaign is encouraging people to open up about their pay. It's definitely something we should be encouraging women to feel confident about."

There is legislation in place which could force companies to report their gender pay gap but the Government has not enacted it, preferring its voluntary Think, Act, Report scheme encouraging companies to publish as much information as possible.

But Ms Swinson said: "I would agree that while the pay gap is reducing a bit, it's not reducing enough, given that we're 40 years on from the initial legislation to say that men and women ought to be paid equally.

"I think we need to recognise that the Government does have the power to impose equal pay audits, and it may well be that if we do not see success through Think, Act, Report, that might be the only way to make this happen."

The Government did not enact plans, inherited from Labour, to make the pay audits mandatory but it has given employment tribunals the power to force employers who break equal pay laws to carry out the reviews.

The minister added that people should be encouraged to describe themselves as feminists.

"We should be encouraging people to be happy to declare themselves as feminists. And I think in some sections of the media there is a tendency to associate feminism with bra-burning extremism. But it's about very mainstream views about women's role in society.

"We need to be very clear about claiming that word as something positive and I think that the new momentum behind a lot of feminist campaigns is exciting and is showing that there are still a lot of issues where we haven't solved it.

"It's not about hating men, this is about creating a society where men and women working together can achieve more, rather than being pitted against each other in stereotypical archaic roles."

© 2013 Press Association